Demonstrating Respect for Rights? Follow Up: Government Response to the Committee's Twenty-second Report of Session 2008-09 - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Letter to the Chair of the Committee from Rt Hon David Hanson MP, Minister of State, Home Office, dated 24 October 2009


I wanted to provide you with an update on the Government's planned response to the report 'Demonstrating Respect for Rights? Follow-up' by the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) published on 14 July 2009.

The Home Office submitted written and oral evidence to JCHR's review into policing protest and published a formal reply in May 2009. The Government welcomes the JCHR's follow-up report and is committed to continuing to engage constructively with the Committee on what remains a very important area.

As you will be aware, there have been a number of reviews into the policing of protest in recent months, and we await Her Majesty's Inspectorate Constabulary's (HMIC) full Report which is due to be published in November. We are in the process of carefully considering JCHR's latest recommendations, and will be able to provide you with a more comprehensive response once the HMIC Review is published alld following the publication of the Policing White Paper next month: I will ensure you are provided with a full response by 9 December 2009, but in the interim I wanted to give you an update on the Government position of the core issues raised in your Report;

Firstly, it is important to reiterate the evidence provided by my predecessor, Vernon Coaker. The Government is clear that it is important to recognise the professionalism of police forces in facilitating the vast majority of protests without conflict or disorder. It is also important to recognise the successes of the G20 policing operation: criminal activity and wider disruption to London was minimal, the police maintained the high levels of security needed to protect those attending the Summit and over the course of two days thousands were able to protest peacefully.

However it is of course right that those incidents that call into question the actions of individual officers, and any concerns over police tactics, are properly explored and lessons learnt.

I would also reiterate. that we are committed to protecting and facilitating the right to peaceful protest. We will be using the opportunity of the White Paper to reaffirm this commitment and to set out the key principles that must underpin the policing of protest.

We agree too that good communication between police and protestors - and with the media - is the key to ensuring 'no surprises policing', and that the use of tactics like containment and use of force must be proportionate. We will set out in our full response how we think this can best be achieved working with a full range of partners.

In our reply to your report and in oral evidence to the Committee, the Home Office also gave undertakings to consult on amendments to section 5 of the

Public Order Act 1986, to look at how the Protection from Harassment Act is Sometimes used against protestors and to look at the impact of the privatisation of public space on the right to protest. We have sought views from a range of stakeholders on section 5 and are currently collating the responses; we remain in discussions with the Ministry of Justice on the use of injunctions against protestors and will be drawing on the work of the HMIC Review in responding to the Committee's concerns around quasi-public space.

Finally, you will have seen that the Government has brought forward repeal of sections 132-138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 in the Constitutional Renewal and Governance Bill. In doing so we have directly addressed the Committee's concerns about the level of access the police are required to maintain. I look forward to the Committee's support for these provisions as we take them through both Houses.

I am copying this letter to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police

Service, the President of ACPO and Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary.

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